Remember those day when we were soaking drenched in oil from head to toe and made to stand in the sun waiting in line for the next ordeal 🙄 of having the oil washed away with shikakai? 🙂 . Yes I am going to talk about the traditional Indian oil massage head bath.
I am going to bring all those memories back now.
For some reason those ordeals have now transformed into fond memories.
One cannot stop letting out a deep sigh after remembering the amount of hair one had on the head when undergoing those ordeals.
Each Saturday while we stood wrapped in a towel, sesame oil was heated with spices and herbs and then applied to our head followed by massage that made me so drowsy.
Then the entire body was massaged with oil and there we stood in the sun in our backyard garden while a big vessel filled with water was getting heated in a stove.
The water had Neem and eucalyptus leaves floating in them.
While my mom felt that it was an aromatic skin cleanser, I was going, ”ew you made me smell bad”.
Then one by one the kids were led like cattle were led to slaughter and this is one line where we never wanted to be the first one. Mom’s hand was not tired and the shikakai paste was rubbed with full force on your head to wash away the oil and dirt. But at that moment, I seriously felt like she was really carrying out the frequently uttered threat during our naughty times, ”thola urichi uppu kandam pottuduvaen” (i will peel you and rub salt on you and make you into a jerky 🙁 . The cleansing ritual is done and we are wrapped in towels again and marched to a ”naar kattil”.
A naar kattil is a cot made with wooden frame and reeds. Just like a basket is weaved, the reeds or sometimes ropes were weaved to form the bed. Unlike our modern day beds, this one sagged in the middle as days go by and it was an aerated and well ventilated bed. Some slept with mattress and some just used a bed sheet.
My mom still swears that nothing can match a good nap on a naar kattil under the cool mango tree. Just like cruel dictators built torture chambers, my parents special ordered one from the south part of India where these cots are made, shipped it by train and assembled it in our home. Once during our trip down south, my mom spent an afternoon with an old grandma learning how to weave that bed. Every few years, she will cut off the whole thing and weave a new bed.
No doubt, this mandatory skill was passed on to the next generation and I can make this bed too. May be I should find some wooden frame and post a tutorial for this to revive this dying craft.
Now wet and dripping and angry and crying because that bitter shikakai powder went into our eyes, we are herded to dry our hair with sambirani (incense) while lying down on the bed. While mom is busy kindling the flame on the charcoal I fiercely dispute her accusation that skikakai went into our eyes only because I was shaking my head too much and not because of her.
While we lie down spreading our towel dried hair on the cot, mom sits on the floor with the bowl with smoldering charcoal and sambirani (incense powder). She adds the sambirani little by little and it smokes and the entire room smells. The smell travels up through the holes in the bed and gets infused into the hair and hair is moved to expose the scalp to dry it. I am told that this also removes all the chillness and prevents us from catching a cold because of the oil treatment.
Then we are fed some hot soup and made to stay indoor because now the nerves are relaxed from the massage and it is not safe to go and play or do strenuous activities in the scorching sun. 😥
It must now be clear why we hated this ritual. Now I would kill to have to go through it just one more time.
Here is the recipe for the head massage hair oil:
Sesame oil – amount varies based on the length of hair and number of family members. Castor oil and few drops if neem oil may also be mixed with sesame oil.
Rice – dont know why this is added. May be someone one can explain why.
Fenugreek – Arrests hair loss, cooling for body
Curry leaves – rich in iron to maintain black color of hair
Cumin seeds – coolness
Red chilli – it increases blood supply to follicles.
Small onions – Rich in sulpur and helps hair growth
Garlic – similar to onion and also kills fungi
Pepper – kills dandruff causing germs
I took the picture before I added 2 cloves of garlic.
Heat sesame oil in low to medium flame and add the onion and garlic first and then the other ingredients.
Filter and massage into head and hair when it is warm. Warm oil soaks hair faster than cold oil.